Tuesday, August 16, 2016

First Things First

your first day friend, Suzanne

Our days are numbered!  Kiddos will be walking into our rooms in a single digit number of days.  So where do you start?

Week 1
Relationships- Get to know your kids; have fun together. Some of my favorite "get to know you"s come from Teaching Outside the Box by LouAnne Johnson. She is the teacher that Dangerous Minds is based off of. She has students fill out an index card with contact info and include anything they think might help her teach them.  She collects each one from their desk and thanks them by name.  Then it's time for the first test of the year!!  She explains that the first test is on her.  She explains it to her students this way- "I'm going to go down the roll sheet and see if I have learned everybody's names.  If I get them all right, I win.  If I miss one name, you all get an automatic A on your first test, and you don't even have to lift a writing utensil."  *In looking back at this book, I'm reminded how awesome it is- totally a MUST READ!!

Get an Informal Baseline- Note student attitudes and work products in writing.  My favorite way to do this is to play Two Truths and a Lie.  Have each student write their 3 fun facts on an index card. Allow students to read their cards and then YOU guess. They love, love it when you're wrong, and the process of guessing helps you remember something about them and allows you a glimpse of their personality.  After each student has shared, have students choose one truth that they could tell you the story behind.  I provide this frame and then turn students loose to write. Again, notice who starts quickly, who is reluctant...

I would set a timer for 10-15 minutes to have students write.  This will be collected but definitely not graded. It's way too early for that!  This will help you see where you should start instruction and specific student needs.  

Click here for a lesson that perfectly blends relationships and information seeking. Teach commas in a series, and have students create getting to know you pitchforks for one another.  

**Pick a day in Week 2, and communicate the date and expectation that students bring a spiral or composition notebook to set up...drum roll please...interactive notebooks!!!**

Week 2
Ahhhh...week 2. I am happy to see you! Here is the return of some sense of normalcy. Schedule changes have subsided, classes are balanced, routines are in place, and we are ready to run!! So now what??

Interactive Notebooks- My #1 suggestion with interactive notebooks is to keep it simple. Not too many tabs; I certainly don't spend time numbering pages.  Check out our previous posts on interactive notebooks for tips and tricks:
I Heart Notebooks
I Heart Notebooks 2.0
Notebook Nitty Gritty

I spend a class period setting up notebooks, setting expectations, and getting a soft start.  Usually we start by creating different idea banks in our Toolbox section.

Shared Reading- If it weren't for dang schedule changes, I would start these Week 1. They are just too powerful to hold back.  You can read more about the science behind them here and access them here.  

Grammar Foldable- If I were the queen of education (which I'm having trouble finding the application form), I would have every student make a grammar foldable at the beginning of every.single. school year.  You can determine the depth and complexity that's appropriate for your grade level, but I have yet to meet a student who would be hurt by a little repetition in this area. Grammar foldable here.

We wish you the happiest of school year!  As always, let us know if there is ANYTHING (seriously, try us!) that we can do to help you and your students be successful!!

Thursday, August 4, 2016


Your planning pal, Lori

May this not happen to you.
Brace yourselves. August is upon us. There's lots to do, and we need all our tools in our toolbox!

A large portion of my day involves facilitating 4 different PLCs. That's a lot of curriculum for me to keep straight. That's a lot of obligations for me to juggle. From planning meeting to planning meeting, I find that teachers often forget what was previously discussed because maybe...just maybe...they're preoccupied with eleventy billion other things. One teacher seems to take copious notes in a tabbed binder with her printed and color coded calendar. (Yikes. How do you do that?) One teacher takes frantic notes on random slips of paper. (Bless her. We're kindred scattered spirits.) Another teacher takes no notes. He politely nods and contributes when he feels strongly about something. We spend a lot of time catching up, trying to get back on the same page, and then the bell rings, and it's time to go. 

I'd had enough of this after the first couple of weeks at my new school last year, and I had to find a way to get my teams to collaborate, to organize upcoming curriculum, to fill in gaps in the curriculum (I'm sure that never happens to you), and to ensure skills-based instruction. So often, when we're pressed for time, the quality of our instruction suffers because we're just treading water. Tread no more, my friends. Reclaim your SWAG. 

My SWAG (Six Weeks at a Glance) document is so ridiculously simple and you may already have something like it. This little guy is my BFF because do you remember the part where I said I facilitate four separate PLCs? It's also a great way to pull in all members of your team and keep everyone on the same page while still allowing room for individual teaching styles. Take a look at a Sample SWAG here

If you're on a nine week grading period, I'm so sorry. You'll have to call it a NWAG, and that's kind of unfortunate. It sounds a little bit like a weather phenomenon. We haven't seen a NWAG this size in 50 years! But I digress...

Building the SWAG: I build this FOR my teams.

  • Keep your district curriculum or scope and sequence handy so that you are playing well and within the rules.
  • Strand--I designate the first column as the strand. Here you can identify whether your students will be reading, writing, editing/revising... This should fluctuate often.
  • Genre/Type--The next column helps you quickly determine what genres you're working with, what mode of writing you're teaching, or what grammar skill you're focusing on. You should also find that this changes often. 
  • Standards/TEKS--I'm writing to you from the great state of Texas, so I keep my TEKS handy. And yes...I type them every single time (mostly). As an instructional specialist, it helps to keep me rooted in the language of the standards so that I understand the depth, complexity, and rigor required. 
  • As one six weeks is ending and another is on the horizon, we set aside a meeting for a SWAG planning session. I show them the latest SWAG that I've built. It's never set in stone. Instead, we make sure that the best possible texts have been chosen. Sometimes I'll even put out a request for help finding paired texts. This initial meeting is set up only to solidify the big picture for the six weeks. 

    Maintaining the SWAG: I build this WITH my teams.
    • It works best if you use Google docs so that it is a collaborative effort. 
    • The fourth and last column is designated for "Suggested Time Frame and Activities." 
    • At this point, it's PLC as usual. We use data to determine areas of focus. That's a whole other blog post. We take each component of the SWAG and determine how many days we need to spend with it and what instructional strategies we will use. 
    • I do my best to pull in all team members. If we decided that in the next week we will do a card sort, a close reading of an expository text using a graphic organizer and then an exit ticket--then we will task list those individual items out to individual teachers. 
      • Who is making the card sort? When will you have it done? Are you going to cut it out, or are we cutting our own? (Heads up, guys...always make people cut their own!)
      • Who is making the graphic organizer? When can you have it done?
      • Who will create the exit ticket? 
    • Rinse. Lather. Repeat. This is the structure of our PLCs. It's organized, efficient, and saves time for real brainstorming to happen. The WHAT is already laid out. All I need my teachers to focus on is the HOW. (And gosh...they're AWESOME!)
    Owning the SWAG: Teachers do this THEMSELVES. 
    • Teachers take the big ideas from the SWAG and tailor it to their own teaching style, their own students and class periods, and their own pacing. 
    The SWAG is my favorite. It takes work on the front end, but you'll be smooth sailing before you know it! 

    Tuesday, August 2, 2016

    Hey There, New Teacher!!

    your biggest fan, Suzanne
    You did it!  All of that course work, training, planning, interviewing, and dreaming have led you to this point.  Your are going to be the teacher in your very own classroom!  That's a big deal!

    If your now thinking to yourself, "Holy heck!  What have I done?!", you're not alone.  I clearly remember my first day of teaching.  We were about two hours into the day when I thought, "Man, when is their teacher going to get here?!"  I'm pretty sure my face went pale as I realized that their teacher was here...it was me!  

    Teaching is one of, if not the most, rewarding profession!  Sure, there will be hard days, challenging students, and lessons that don't go as planned, but they's nothing that you can't overcome.  Especially with a little bit of advice.

    Make Friends
    These are little sweetie faces from my first crop!
    Education is not made to go it alone. It's too hard! Making good friends can pay off in big ways. You will likely be paired with an official mentor by your campus.  Hopefully this is a great fit and this person truly invests in you and your classroom. Either way, find a person that is strong in your content. Listen carefully in department meetings and planning sessions.  Who is consistently asking good questions, bringing creative ideas, and tying ideas and suggestions to standards that are to be taught? Ask to spend a part of your conference period in their classroom. Ask to plan together once a week. Also figure out who is a dynamic teacher on your campus.  They don't even have to teach your same subject- good ideas are everywhere! You might hear music and laughter coming from their room or learning spilling out of their room and into the hallways. They can help you design lessons that are engaging and purposeful and manage behaviors and procedures. If you need suggestions, ask your administrators. You'll get mucho points for taking initiative! Another important friend- your custodian.  They are powerful!  Talk to them when they're in your room.  Ask about their family and any traveling they did this summer. They can also give you advice about being your new school.

    Plan, Plan, Plan
    You don't get to "wing it".  Sorry, if that sounds harsh, but I really mean it. Quality instruction doesn't happen by accident. Engaging activities take lots of planning and preemptive problem-solving. Higher order questions are premeditated.  Are you a new ELAR teacher? Yay, yay, yay!!  I'm so glad you're here. Now raise your hand and repeat after me- "I, {your full name here...yes, middle name too}, do solemnly swear to read all literature before teaching it in my classroom." This might sound like a no-brainer, but it deserves to be mentioned here. At NO TIME should you and your students be reading something for the first time together. And no, you reading the same short story when you were in high school doesn't count. No pressure, but there are eyes on you. It's just good leadership. People are looking at your lesson plans, coming into your classroom, and monitoring your scores in order to provide resources and support. Hopefully this support is being provided from the beginning to ward off potential problems. Being in the spotlight definitely means not taking short cuts.

    Don't Be a Jerk
    They're all big and grown now, but I still love them!
    Relationships are key! Allow your classroom to reflect your personality. Have pictures of friends (that reflect your newfound adulthood and professionalism...{awkward smile}), family, cool places you've traveled, etc. around your desk. Proudly represent your college. Be kind to every student.  Greet them at the door. On those first days, you don't know them.  That means you don't know what they've experienced or how they work.  Respect that. Also, for some students, your newness is the best thing that's ever happened to them. It means a fresh start! Throughout the year, you will build stronger relationships. Tutoring is a great time to sit down with a small group and hear students as individuals. Also, learn what they're interested in and celebrate that.  Go to their games/concerts. If you can't, ask about them on Monday morning. Students are people too. They appreciate signs that you notice them and that you care. 

    *I hate having to mention this disclaimer, but it's just the world that we live in: Before or after school, when you might have students coming and going, keep your door open. You never need to have a closed door meeting with a student. You just don't. Also, try not to spend prolonged periods of time with a student, particularly with a member of the opposite sex. This is best to protect you and your students. Also, technology- students don't need to be your digital friend or follower. You can create accounts for your classroom but keep them open for all to see. One last thing- protect your phone number. The is the #1 source of trouble I've seen. Be careful. Okay, enough of that...

    Find Balance
    It will never all be finished. But guess what? It'll still be there tomorrow. Set a cut off time. My personal one is 5-5:30. Yeah, even now. Some days I beat it and some days I leave after that, but it helps to have a time to start wrapping things up. You need something to enjoy outside of school, especially something that includes people.  Post-college can be a little lonely.  Don't worry- there's not something wrong with you. It'll get better. Find a great church, an intramural sports league, or volunteer opportunity. Also, take some time to relax. You are doing some of the most important and difficult work there is to be done- treat yourself like the VIP that you are!

    I am so excited for you! My first year is still one of my favorites. There will still be some curveballs and unexpected bumps, but I truly believe that these little pearls of wisdom will set you off on a good start. And I 100% mean this...really...try me...if you need ANYTHING (resources, ideas, management tips, a listening ear) don't hesitate to let me know. Click on Contact Us at the top of the page, and I'm just a couple of clicks away. I genuinely want to see you succeed! You've got this!!

    Friday, July 29, 2016

    #kisdscpd Awesomeness

    Killeen Friends-

    We so enjoyed our day with you!  Lori and I talked about how smart, creative, and energetic you are the whole way home!

    Be sure to link up with us on Facebook and Twitter to see pictures of our day together.

    We also wanted to link some resources that we covered yesterday:

    WWAM Poetry Analysis
    Nine Square- The Other Side
    Revision Meets the Road
    Shared Reading for a Scaffolded SAQ- A Walk in the Woods lesson

    I know that we said this yesterday, but we really do mean it--If there is anything that we can do to help you, please let us know!  

    Until next time,